Friday, November 16, 2007

LivingStone: "Evangelical" Monastery?



While walking through the exhibition hall at the BGAV meeting last Tuesday I was struck by one display in particular. It was for LivingStone Monastery in Newport News, Virginia. The young man attending the table saw the puzzled look on my face as I read their banner proclaiming the mission of this "Protestant monastery." The young man, a recent graduate of Trinity Divinity School in Chicago, gave me a brochure and the low down on the monastery.

Livingstone opened in 2004 in a building once owned by the Sisters of Poor Clare, an order of Franciscan nuns, who had lived there for 50 years. As the brochure says, "Now a monastery in the evangelical tradition, LivingStone is a religious community called to support the local church, to practice hospitality,and to foster an environment for spiritual formation." The Monastery has an "Abbot," and they conduct "daily offices" at morning, noon, and night.

With a little more digging I found the monastery is connected to Hope Community Church, an "emerging" church type congregation. Most interesting thing here is the fact that this church shares facilities with five partnering churches (including what looks like a conservative Anglican and an independent Doctrines of Grace church) in a "multi-church campus" called Mosaic.

Prominently displayed on the exhibit table was a book by Quaker evangelical mystic Richard Foster. The affable young man let me look at their reading list which had more Foster and the Catholic Henry Nouwen, but it also listed several books by John Piper and even J. I. Packer’s Knowing God.

After a little perusal, I asked the young "monk," "Why do you think that the Protestant Reformers closed down the monasteries as the Reformation got under way?" Why did the former monk Luther marry the former nun Katherine Von Bora and establish their Christian home as "the school for character" (as Roland Bainton puts it in his classic bio of Luther)? I also asked why evangelicals would turn to Quakers or Roman Catholics for lessons on spirituality and bypass our own glorious (and doctrinally distinct) heritage on such matters in the Puritans (none of whom made the reading list).

We have to admit that most evangelical churches are lacking the intimate fellowship, community, discipline, and commitment that these young folk are trying to find in their "monastery." But is such a communal living arrangement Biblical? Shouldn’t these folk be encouraged to marry and establish godly homes where godly children are raised and to join themselves in meaningful covenant to an authentic local church body?

JTR

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello. I suspect that you misunderstood something about the "monastery." They are likely part of something called "the new monasticism," which contains both single folks and married couples with families. Google "new monasticism" or "the Prayer Foundation" for more information. I would recommend reading Shane Claiborne's book, The Irresistible Revolution, as well. Christ's peace!

Anonymous said...

I agree that there are dangers behind "monasticism" as a lifestyle. Forced celibacy being a most destructive danger. The Holy Spirit revealed through Paul that it is a doctrine of demons. Nevertheless, sacrificing father, mother, wife, or children for the sake of the kingdom is praised by Christ (Matt. 19). Paul himself recommended the freedom found in the single life for the freedom it afford to serve Christ (1 Cor 7). Bottom line is, developing a deeper spirituality within the context of a devout community, separated from the cares of this world is a most godly idea which violates none of Scripture. We Evangelicals sometimes hold so tightly to the traditions of our Protestant Popes, that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Whoever is not against Christ, is for Christ.

MaryDawnCarrier said...

I know this is years later, but...the first commentor was correct. My husband and I met, married, and had our first child together 6 years ago while serving at LivingStone Monastery. God Bless.